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January 28th, 2009 HENRY STERN | Q & A
 

Jeana Frazzini

Basic Rights Oregon head can’t stand the lie, not the liar.

     
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STAND BY YOUR SAM: Basic Rights Oregon’s Jeana Frazzini: “We believe he can overcome this.”
IMAGE: Ben Mollica

Basic Rights Oregon executive director Jeana Frazzini agreed a couple weeks back to visit our office on Jan. 22 so we could chat about her group’s legislative agenda to advance gay rights.

Needless to say, that planned discussion got swamped by the breaking news that Mayor Sam Adams confessed Jan. 19 to lying about his sexual relationship with 18-year-old Beau Breedlove.

Frazzini said Basic Rights Oregon is deeply disappointed in Adams, the first openly gay mayor of a large American city.

But unlike the editorial decision-makers at The Oregonian, The Portland Tribune and Just Out, the GLBT group doesn’t believe he should resign.

“We condemn what he did, but we support him going forward,” Frazzini said last Thursday. “Emotions are high and the disappointment is palpable...but the time has come for cooler heads to prevail.”

Here’s what else she had to say.

WW: What are your thoughts about this past week?

Jeana Frazzini: My feelings and our feelings as an organization are similar to what the community as a whole is feeling right now. We are a statewide organization, but certainly we have a strong base in Portland. And emotions are running high all the way around on this issue. So disappointed? Yes. We’re cognizant that the mayor has work to do to rebuild trust, but at the same time confident that he has a demonstrated track record and the leadership that the city needs. We believe he can overcome this. And we’re standing behind him.

So you’re not calling on him to resign?

Absolutely not. No.

That’s a stronger level of support than in the letter you released yesterday.

We took the deep breaths and a little bit of a step back and really had…a lot of thoughtful consideration of the question because this is a critical issue. Because the truth is the mayor’s personal failings and actions of a few years ago don’t necessarily implicate the kind of leadership he can bring to this city, and it doesn’t wipe out the two decades of service…. Our position is in recognition that there is an ongoing investigation and that we believe there will be a positive result there.

Do you think our story should have ever been published?

I don’t think I can comment on that. There have been so many twists and turns in places where things could’ve or should’ve gone differently. But I don’t have a comment on that.

What was your first reaction when you saw the story break Jan. 19 on our website?

It was just sorrow. I’m not taking a position on whether the article should be printed. This story goes back years. And there were many points along the way where there was an opportunity to say, “This isn’t any of your business.” There were options along the way.

There were options for Sam?

Yeah, that’s right. That wouldn’t have led to this story.

Like saying, “I’m not going to talk about it because it’s none of your business”?

I believe so. This is a personal, private matter.

What damage has this done to the gay community and to gay politicians?

It’s really…very early to make any sort of assessment. I do think that in this situation, Sam has work to do to regain the trust of Portland voters. I believe he can do that, that he’s demonstrated the leadership to do that.

How much harder has he made your job in reaching out to straight Oregonians?

If it’s not this story or this issue that opponents of equality would raise as a specter, it would be something else. There remains a committed, conservative—

I’m not talking about a conservative or somebody on the fringe. I’m talking about a person in the middle. How much harder does he make your job with those people?

What I’m hearing from the general public is that they’re ready in a lot of ways to move on from this story. This isn’t a gay or straight issue at the core. Which I think really gets at the question that you’re asking. This is about one man’s personal failings, the mistakes he has made in his personal life and the lie he has told to the public. Whether or not that is a gay man and a young man…a gay male politician and a young man he’s involved with or a straight male politician and a young woman that he’s involved with, people need to be judged on their actions, not on their identities.

Let me ask you about some of the comments on our website, some of which say he is being held to a different standard because he is gay. Do you believe that?

I don’t deny there are those who will hold him to a different standard. I think anyone who is the first at something, and in this case, he is the first out gay mayor of a major U.S. city…there is added scrutiny that comes with being the first.

 
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